Towards the end of 2015, Siddharth Mohan Nair was selected for the Jagriti Yatra, a two-week long train journey across the length and breadth of the country.
The 25-year-old law student had to skip it as he could not arrange the funds. Siddharth, who hails from Palakkad in Kerala, decided to embark on a journey on his own.
During one such trip, he came across khadi denims from a Khadi Bhandar outlet in Mumbai. "I've been wearing khadi for quite some time now, but I didn't know about khadi denims," he says.
In April he started DesiTude, a khadi denim brand after taking a Rs 30,000 loan from his mother.
“Customized, made to measure, hand-spun hand-woven Khadi apparel. Proudly hand-crafted in India,” is how the brand has been described on Facebook.
“Many people have never heard of khadi denims. So when they place orders with me without seeing the product or having touched it, it is totally amazing,” he says.
DesiTude is a one-man organisation currently. Siddharth personally buys fabric rolls from Ahmedabad, washes them multiple times and then hands over the material to a tailor in Mumbai. The finished garments are delivered via India Post.
Siddharth says that one of the main reasons that people don’t buy khadi is because it is time-consuming and expensive to maintain.
Ordinary khadi requires starching to increase life of the fabric and need to be hand washed to preserve quality.
"Not only does it increase the cost of maintaining it, but people also do not have that much time. This is one of the main reasons people don’t buy khadi," he says. But khadi denim does not need starching, ironing or whitening, he says.
At Rs 3,500, prices of DesiTude’s products are higher because khadi denim fabric is more expensive than mill made material, and because he doesn’t manufacture in bulk.
Most of his customers are from Bengaluru and Chennai followed by Bombay. He has also received two orders from France and Singapore. Investments have come in and Siddharth plans to first get the company registered and build a website.
Siddharth did not expect his idea would pick up the way it has and is still not quite sure about its future. Through his brand, he practices his beliefs. Among them is using his business to help other causes- he has pledged to plant a tree sapling for every jeans he sells and is also supporting CodeRed, an initiative to provide underprivileged women sanitary napkins.
"What I am doing is not charity,” he stresses. “Though some people seem to have that impression. I am making a livelihood here and khadi promotion is also an aim.”
DesiTude will soon introduce handprinted eco-friendly khadi labels for its jeans.
For the love of Khadi
Though in the business of jeans, Siddharth doesn't wear denim pants himself.
While studying to obtain his degree in energy and environmental engineering, Siddharth was like another student. “I was lean, used to sport spiky hair and wear low waist pants. I also took to body building for a while.”
All that changed after he volunteered in the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement in 2012, and was deeply inspired by the likes of Anna Hazare and Prashant Bhushan.
That’s when he switched to the mundu, a traditional dhoti like garment worn by men in Kerala, after reading C. Rajagopalachari's biography. He lives a Gandhian way of life "not only because of Gandhiji but also because leading a simple life is good".
The transformation, which occurred in his early 20s, shocked people. "They asked me if I had a freedom fighter in the family. Some people think I am old, some see me as a nut. Once I was travelling in the Delhi metro, and two girls started singing lungi dance. People tease me. But I am cool (with it),” he says.